Two years ago, I lost my grandmother to kidney cancer. I had to undertake the hardship of coordinating her funeral, burying her, and then selling her house. Wandering the rooms in a melancholic haze having to make multiple hard decisions of what I could keep, trash, or sell, and coming to terms that a certain bright and beautiful part of my life was forever gone by cruel chaos, was one of the most draining experiences of my entire life. My fond memories of the place swirling and becoming patchy under the monumental anxiety and stress of the situation. The whole thing feels like a surreal dream every time I think about it.
Tell Me Why's second episode opens in a similar fashion, and it nails this atmosphere perfectly. The first episode's conclusion puts the Ronan twins into some mentally precarious situation. Tyler recalls the night his own mother came after him with a loaded shotgun, with his sister coming to his aide. The situation concludes disastrously, practically re-opening old wounds long thought healed. This is particularly felt as the twins begin the game of "keep, sell, trash" with their mother's belongings; their nostalgic visions of the past becoming more and more unreliable in the face of their unearthed revelations.
Tell Me Why Episode 2 continues this ongoing theme of coping with tragic loss. A constant quest for easy answers causes the twins to find out their mothers' closest friends knew a lot more than what they let on at first glance.The first big thing that is lost is the twins' romanticized notions of what their mother dealt with. Tell Me Why Episode 1 revealed that the Ronans were financially in dire straits, leading to a strained relationship with the goodhearted and stringently religious Tessa Vecchi. Even Alyson's relationship to Chief Eddy Brown is severely strained by his involvement in their economic strife.
Since the twins can't even fully trust their own dwindling recollections of these events from their adolescence, it leads them to some challenging situations. The biggest set piece in the entire episode can best be described as a heist scenario where Tyler and Alyson break into the Delos Crossing Police Department's records room to look for concrete answers about the circumstances leading up to the tragic night.
But Dontnod shows their talent for levity in otherwise serious narratives. There's an entire section halfway through the episode where Tyler bonds with one of Alyson's co-workers, Michael. It's a delightful reprieve from the rest of the episode where two characters can just talk, laugh, and get to know each other a lot more.
It is also the point where Tell Me Why's LGBT elements come to the forefront. I mentioned before in the first episode how Tyler is portrayed quite thoughtfully as a transgender man. Aside from some very mindful handling of common storytelling stumbling blocks regarding deadnaming and elements of identity and personal choice, the story never fully centers on this element of Tyler. He's a loving brother with his own wants and needs, and almost every character who knew him before his big change ultimately treat him no differently aside from quick mentions at how much he has changed.
The scene with Michael focuses a bit more on these elements. Michael casually talks about how he's not just gay but also is part of a support community that holds social events in Juneau, a far trip from the quiet and small Delos Crossing. If Tell Me Why can ever be accused of getting on a soapbox for this part of the community when it comes to the unique struggles of living in small rural towns, it pops up here. Yet, it never becomes preachy or angry. It's mostly framed as Michael grousing about past relationships and the difficulties of meeting someone new, a universal topic when it comes to those who have been in relationships.
It's a bright spot that helps anchor what is an otherwise maudlin and taxing episode. In addition to confrontations with old friends, the aforementioned raid on the police's records, and a melancholic section where the twins revisit dear mother's grave, there isn't much in terms of a major antagonist or outward conflict.
That is, until the very end of the episode. Calling back to the idea that Alyson and Tyler's childlike recollections of the past might be leading to flawed or even outright fabricated interpretations of the past, the finale implies that their fantasies might not be pulled entirely from whole cloth. Whether it is just a convenient lie they're telling themselves to spare them from a deeper and sadder truth is what puts the entire scenario into question, propelling them to investigate further.
Tell Me Why could have easily felt the constraints of a story's middle chapter. Rather than meander around and arbitrarily set up stuff for the final episode's climax, it remembers the deeply human experience that comes with loss, how it changes you, and how it doesn't just magically go away. There are instances where the dialogue can feel a bit too on the nose are too clever by half, but the underlying emotional psychology at play makes every step of their journey feel earned.
As for where that ultimately leads them, that remains to be seen.
TechRaptor played Tell Me Why on PC via Windows with a code provided by the publisher. The game is also out on Xbox One and via Game Pass. Episode 3 releases on Sept. 10.